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VIFF 2017 Interview: EN EL SEPTIMO DIA director Jim McKay

by Jason Whyte

"EN EL SEPTIMO DIA is an uplifting movie that will give you a view of New York and the U.S. that you rarely see in other films. If you're tired of seeing independent films about navel-gazing white hipsters, this is the film for you!" Jim McKay on EN EL SEPTIMO DIA which screens at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

This IS my first trip to VIFF, and how did I never play here with my previous films? But yes, I will be attending both screenings!

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background, and how you got into the whole filmmaking business.

I am a self-taught writer/director who has lived in New York for 25 years and whose five feature films have all been shot on location in New York City, most of them in Brooklyn. For the past 12 years, I have been directing television shows like The Wire, Treme, Power, Mr Robot, The Good Wife, and The Americans. My film school took place in art and rep house cinemas in Boston, New York, and San Francisco. I slowly worked my way from making small music videos for my own and my friends' bands to making small features, to producing films for other filmmakers, to directing tv shows. Now I'm back with another film of my own.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively? How much coffee?

During production, I am driven by fear, anxiety, adrenaline, and the love, patience, and immense skills of the cast and crew. Hopefully, every day you have a handful of epiphanies, and moments that remind you of how special the process is and that push you to return the next day to catch more.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you overcome it?

Although this was a small film, it was complex; a very big cast of mostly non-actors, all of whom had jobs that they couldn't quit in order to work on the film and which we therefore had so schedule around. But all small productions are packed with challenges and you overcome them with a passion for the specialness of the project and the combined energy of your team.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?

One day we started filming early; we filmed for about five hours in a cramped apartment, then we moved to a park/soccer field, where we filmed for a few hours, then we moved to a bar, where we filmed one of the movie's most important scenes. And then, as the sun was starting to rise, we moved with a splinter crew and four cast members to film a scene in the subway. We rehearsed the scene out on the sidewalk so when the time came to go into the subway, we were really ready, as we didn't want to get arrested for filming without a permit. As the sun started coming up, the scene started coming together and we decided to film it there, outside, on the sidewalk. We did about four takes of the scene and it was absolutely magical. The whole crew, though exhausted, was ecstatic. It's the final scene of the film.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film!

My first four films were all shot on film, but in the last ten years, digital technology has advanced to the point where I'm no longer the traditionalist I once was. I still love film, but I think that cameras like the Arri Alexa or Amira, which we used, capture amazing images and allow you to do more with less. Our Director of Photography, Charles Libin, made a gorgeous looking film with an absolutely tiny lighting package.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie to audiences here at VIFF?

I love film festival screenings. It's a chance to show your work to eager, sophisticated audiences and then hear feedback. I love the give and take of a Q&A and they can never be too long for me. In Vancouver, I'm interested in getting a Canadian perspective on the story and sharing my thoughts from the U.S. as well.

Where is this movie going to show next? Any ideas of how you would like to distribute the film?

We're booking the rest of 2017 and the first half of 2018 with film festivals in anticipation of a Spring, 2018 theatrical release. And then the internet!

If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?

I worked at Coolidge Corner Movie Theater in Brookline, Massachusetts when I was in college. It was there that I saw my first Wenders, Bergman, Varda, Herzog, Rainer, Ackerman, Cassavetes, Fassbinder, etc. And now I just realized I have never screened one of my films there. It would be nice to close that circle.

Movie theaters are the best place to see a movie, but sometimes they can be distracting! What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

I don't go to church, but I do go to the movies, oftentimes alone. A movie theater is one of the few places where you can turn off all that other crap and get lost in a story. What a valuable thing that is in today's world! And I would go even further and say that people should resist the urge to reach into their pockets and turn those phones back on as soon as the credits start to roll. What's going to be on your little screen? How important is it? What incredible piece of internet trivia might you have missed in the last 90 minutes that you absolutely must know about RIGHT NOW? Sit. Think. Let the story settle inside you. Where are the characters headed? How did this story intersect with your life? Let it live for a moment. Sometimes it takes me blocks and blocks of walking after leaving the theater until I can utter my first words. That's a good movie experience.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews for inspiration. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

The most important element of good filmmaking is life experience. Good, original films come from observation and participation in real life. Too much storytelling comes from people who have learned about the human species from watching movies rather than first-hand. So I would say travel, take the bus, work in lots of different jobs, and talk to other human beings instead of staring down at your phone all day. This is where good stories will come from.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

I have had many incredible festival experiences, but I guess I would have to say that the EN EL SEPTIMO DIA World Premiere at BAM in Brooklyn this past summer was especially cool - our entire main cast was there and none of them had ever acted in a film before or been to a film festival. Sharing that experience with them, in front of 800 people in a beautiful old theater, was something I will never forget.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 28th to October 13th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 10/01/17 00:35:44
last updated: 10/01/17 00:40:55
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